The Cottage Shop: Where Boutique Bargains, Fundraising And Job Training Intersect
The Cottage Shop at 811 Westheimer is a great place to find bargains. But the 44-year-old resale boutique is also a great place to find hope for women looking to get back on their feet. What started as a modest thrift shop in 1971 founded as an additional funding source for Houston non-profit, The Women’s Home, has transformed into a job training site, a community gathering place and of course, a fun and interesting place to find hidden gems and affordable designer clothes and accessories.
“It’s what is called a ‘social enterprise,’” says Marcia Tapp, director of resource development for The Women’s Home. “It plays many roles. The main volunteers in the shop are clients of our treatments and transitional program.”
Those clients come to The Women’s Home for help with situations that include homelessness, mental illness and/or substance abuse and their rotations through The Cottage Shop are just one facet of their immersive therapy.
“It’s a constant flow of new trainees,” says Cheri Barton, the shop’s manager. “They’ll be able to start here at The Cottage Shop after they’ve been in treatment at The Women’s Home for at least 60 days.”
Once they begin their work inside The Cottage Shop, Barton assigns different stations for the women on a cyclical schedule. By the end of their vocational training, they’ve experienced a wide range of roles in a real-life retail setting. Some can be as simple as sorting through donation items while other tasks involve more responsibility.
“Being given a key or a station at a cash register is a big vote of confidence for some of our clients,” says Tapp. “It’s also a chance for us to test issues and catch them early on. If they’ve had some bad habits around the workplace, we can work with them before they end up working somewhere for someone who can’t or won’t necessarily be as patient.”
Barton’s job description goes beyond that of a normal retail manager, stating that she must be able to operate a retail establishment in a “therapeutic community.” But offering such unique opportunities to trainees from The Women’s Home is part of why she enjoys the job so much.
“It’s much more rewarding [than a traditional retail job],” says Barton. “I know everything I do will help out the ladies who work with us and also The Women’s Home financially.”
However, Barton has also proven her retail skills since coming on board as manager earlier this year, transforming the shop into a chic space that feels more like a quaint boutique than a grimy thrift store. She’s updated the interior to feel more inviting and comfortable; adding a sitting area using donated furniture that’s been newly upholstered, installing cheerful decor and building up inventories of designer and boutique clothing, accessories and shoes. Her plans for the future include amping up the men’s clothing and housewares section where she says there’s a lot of opportunity for growth.
Additionally, The Cottage Shop offers plenty of specials throughout the week: Monday means 50-percent off regular clothing and shoes, Tuesday is 25-percent off jewelry and home goods, Wednesday comes with no discounts, but all new inventory, Thursday means 25-percent off boutique items and regular clothing while Friday and Saturday come with 25-percent off boutique items and home furnishings.
Despite the sales and already affordable prices, The Cottage Shop’s income is no drop in the bucket. The yearly sales add up to around $500,000, translating to about $70 a square foot of retail space. Add in the fact that much of the labor comes from trainees and outside volunteers, and it all equals 20-percent of The Women’s Home’s operating income. Tapp and Barton hope that Montrose’s increasing residential population will help to grow the shop’s potential even more.
“We’ve tried to capitalize on the changing demographics of the neighborhood and took ‘thrift shop’ out of our name,” says Tapp. “I think there’s a lot of crossover, especially with a younger audience.”
The Cottage Shop is also trying to capture newer supporters through events like the upcoming “Shop. Taste. Empower” on Sunday, May 3 from 1 to 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public and will include food samplings, a clothing donation drive, raffle prizes, goodie bags, styling tips from a local fashion blogger and of course, plenty of shopping.
See more photos of The Cottage Shop below. Credit: Ev1pro.com.